South China Sea on the back-burner while United States and China talk trade


China and the United States appeared to put their South China Sea disputes on the back-burner when their leaders met on the weekend, a move analysts said was to avoid derailing discussion on trade.

There was no mention of the disputed waters in statements released after the meeting, despite the two countries’ deep divisions over the area.

Instead, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump discussed Taiwan, North Korea and regulating the use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl – as well as trade.

China is one of several countries with competing claims over the resource-rich South China Sea.

The US is not a claimant but it has condemned China’s military build-up in the area and sent warships close to China-claimed islets, triggering protests from Beijing.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said the two countries’ differences over the South China Sea were too wide to bridge, and putting them aside could help them focus on solving their trade problems.

“China stresses its maritime interests in the waters, while the US attaches importance to freedom of navigation. These are different starting points and cannot be easily reconciled,” Song said.